To try to describe the sheer amount of music available to people today would be bordering on redundancy. It’s just way too much in terms of content—too much for any one person to ever digest in their lifetime. And that’s a bit of a double-edged sword, as there is a lot of really great music out there, just begging you to listen to it. Streaming tools like Spotify and Soundcloud make this music incredibly available. But, as powerful and laden with tunes as those programs are, there isn’t much in the way of actually exploring it. Sure, Spotify has its “related artists” tab, but that isn’t always accurate. (Example: Mastodon is, for some reason, listed under The Dillinger Escape Plan’s related artist tab on Spotify. Sure, there are minor similarities, but not enough—aside from general popularity, perhaps—to justify this connection.) Spotify generally just works best if you already know what you’re looking for.
However, there are many internet tools available for even the person attempting to test the waters of music exploration. Here, I’d like to discuss two of these tools in particular—the websites RateYourMusic and AllMusic—and show how they can benefit anybody interested in listening go more music than they already do.
RYM is a pretty big site nowadays, though its popularity, arguably, is still very underground. It always seems like only people with monstrous knowledge of music go on it and contribute to it, like The Needle Drop’s Anthony Fantano, but that doesn’t need to be the case; even the most amateur of music explorers can benefit from the power that is RateYourMusic.
RYM is probably best used for people who sort of understand what they like in terms of genre, but it can just be a great proving ground for people looking to dive deeper into music. Probably the most helpful component of website is the Charts feature, which aggregates user ratings for albums of any style, time or format by any rating you wish. You want to see what the best metal albums of 1998 were? All you have to do is just plug it in and you’re good to go. Even better is the constantly-growing myriad of subgenres that are added to the site. You don’t need to just search for metal; you can search for almost any genre under that umbrella, including stuff as obscure as “trance metal,” (which is apparently (obviously?) a fusion of trance music and metal). If you’re new to these subgenres, you don’t need to fret; RYM also has a great genre feature that explains what each subgenre means, along with a list of albums that are considered to be part of said genre. And, of course, the site is home to a great message board community that can help you find just about any music you want.
However, RateYourMusic can be a little bit limiting in terms of its navigation. The way the site looks and runs can be a bit confusing at first, and can take a lot of time to really get used to (although there is a well-written FAQ if you’re incredibly confused). If you’re like me and you wish to categorize with the meticulousness of an OCD-stricken anal-retentive, Rate Your Music can either be a boon or a curse; you can literally rate music according to the format and edition you listen to an album on, and the tagging system the site uses can be incredibly helpful when you’ve rated a significant amount of content. RYM is actually working on upgrading their site as well; over the last year they have been successfully crowdfunded and should soon be moved over to a new site and format called Sonemic later this year.
Comparing AllMusic and RYM, to me, is like trying to figure out the more powerful country during the Cold War arms race; after a while it just becomes superfluous. But, if you wish to be on the cutting edge of music, AllMusic is probably the best place to go. Not only does the site have an incredibly extensive page dedicated to new releases (with filter results for any of the main genres), they also have great showcases for new music to try out. (To be fair, RYM does do this on their home page, but not to the extent that AM has.)
If you’re looking to simply explore music, AllMusic can help you, too, with their fantastic browsing navigation and advanced search, the latter of which not only sorts by rating, year, type of release (i.e. live album, EP, studio album, etc.), but also by moods and themes. For example, if you want to find metal albums with a rating of 4.5 stars or higher that showcase an “apocalyptic” mood, you can do so. The mood and theme searches are great if you like to make playlists around certain things in your day-to-day life.
What’s even more amazing to me is the depth that AM has for music, and the depth of information on even the most obscure of releases. I have been able to find reviews on albums that I couldn’t even find on RateYourMusic, if you can believe it.
AM does come with its limitations, though. While it has many of the same feature that RYM has, they don’t necessarily look at the concept of genre in the same way. RYM’s genre features are always changing and up for debate, while AllMusic seems to be a bit more conservative. The strange subgenres you’ll find on RYM—from “tribal ambient” to “death industrial” or “neoclassical darkwave” don’t exist in AllMusic. Although they do have the standard metal genres, they’re all listed under “Rock/Pop” (which is a bit of a logistical pain in the butt). Also of note is the poor coding that can sometimes yield strange advanced search results. (Example: Pearl Jam’s Ten can be found under the search filters of “Avant-Garde,” “Apocalyptic,” and “Dark.”)
So, if you wish to explore outside your preferred music, or just learn about the more esoteric releases of your favorite genre, I highly recommend these sites. They act as great filters, taking the entire bulk of what modern music has to offer and giving you exactly what you need, without the hassle that is wading through the millions of Spotify and Bandcamp releases.